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Being and Becoming KachinHistories Beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma$

Mandy Sadan

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265550

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265550.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Being and Becoming Kachin

Mandy Sadan

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This introductory chapter considers perspectives on modern Kachin ethno-nationalism from the vantage point of different communities in Burma, India, China, and Thailand. It discusses anthropological representations of ‘the Kachin’ in the work of Edmund Leach, Jonathan Friedman, and lately that of James C. Scott, and examines the political implications of these representations. The chapter also considers why historians have found it difficult to undertake detailed studies of this region and the dangers of over-privileging the mandala as the defining historical intellectual apparatus. The methodological approach and objectives of the book are outlined in relation to these issues, with a particular focus on Jinghpaw dynamic political expansionism as a critical historical construct. The chapter concludes by briefly outlining each chapter to follow.

Keywords:   Edmund Leach, Jonathan Friedman, James C. Scott, mandala, Kachin, Jinghpaw, political expansion

Contemporary contexts of being Kachin

It was a hot day in May and I was in the bamboo hut in the garden of my Agu’s house in Assam in northeast India, when a visitor interrupted my thoughts.1 I had previously met the young man who was now climbing the stepladder into the hut when we were at the Singpho community manau festival in Miao in the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh a couple of months previously.2 Gam Awng, the young man who was now visiting me, was one of a group of young people from Kachin State in Burma who had recently arrived in India to work as teachers, hoping to introduce local schoolchildren to literacy in the Singpho-Jinghpaw language.3 However, this was not the first time that Gam Awng had been here.

(p.2) In the early 1980s, the conflict in the Kachin region between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army or Tatmadaw reached new depths as discussions for a ceasefire fell apart and the twenty-year conflict seemed set to continue indefinitely.4 There was concern within the KIA’s Central Committee and its civil wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), about where and how they could raise a new generation of educated young men and women. Inside Burma, it seemed the opportunities were negligible for young Kachin people to prosper in the beleaguered national education system, especially at a time when conflict with the military government was being reinvigorated. Eventually they decided to send a group of children to India, mainly the sons and daughters of higher-ranking KIA/KIO personnel. In India, Singpho communities would look after them, educate them within the Indian state system and later, return the children to the Kachin nationalist fold as teachers, soldiers, leaders, rescuing the destiny of an otherwise educationally lost generation. They took this decision in the headquarters of the KIA/KIO situated in the mountainous borderlands of Kachin State and Yunnan, and the children subsequently started their journey towards the passes of the Patkai Hills to enter India. Unfortunately, their movements coincided with an intensification of the persistent, low-level violence that was endemic along the Indo-Burma borderline at this time.5 Since the early 1980s the KIA had had close associations with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, while its links with the United Liberation Front of Assam, or ULFA, also strengthened during these years. This was a volatile, dangerous place through which to travel and the children’s journey was soon swept into chaos as they became caught in the cross-fire of multiple armed groups, (p.3) both state and ‘non-state’. Some of the children died, others fled, and Naga soldiers took a lucky few who were handed over to Singpho communities. The Singpho elites charged with their welfare then moved some of these children to villages in Assam for safety, while others remained with Naga families who adopted them and raised them as their own. This was Gam Awng’s story. He had been adopted when he was five years old by a Naga family who raised him as a Christian Naga, their own son, and taught him to speak Naga dialects. They told him nothing of his Jinghpaw-Kachin background, for rarely in this part of the world is it worth believing in fairy stories of reconciliation or happy endings.

Some twenty years later, following the relative stability of the ceasefire signed in 1994 between the KIA and the Burmese Army, it was decided to trace these children and restore them to their birth families wherever possible. Singpho elites in India set about locating them, but it was not easy, and by the time I met Gam Awng in 2008, five of them had yet to be found. A few years previously, Gam Awng’s Naga family had told him the truth about his background and had returned him to his birth parents. Back in Burma, he learned Jinghpaw, facilitated through Kachin Baptist Church-sponsored youth education and no doubt made easier by the fact that his Naga family had raised him as a Naga Baptist.6 Conversion to Christianity has been important in the modern histories of many Naga communities in this border region just as it has been for the Kachin of Burma.7 He later went on to study in a Jinghpaw language college in KIA-controlled territory that had in recent (p.4) years been set up on the Yunnan border. Now here he was in India again, after being sent back to teach Jinghpaw literacy to Singpho children. This was a dramatic reversal of the previous discourse on the relative educational opportunities in different ‘Kachin’ settings that had seen his early years consumed in violence and chaos. Over the course of twenty years, the intra-regional dynamics between the different parts of this borderworld had slowly yet persistently altered. He did not know how long he would remain in Arunachal Pradesh; others would still decide this, but he said it was his duty now as a Kachin.

Gam Awng’s story reveals much about the constantly evolving realities of life in this region for people who live within, between and across multiple national boundaries.8 Some criticise the rather lazy use of the term ‘borderland’ to describe generically the minority ethnic group-dominated regions of Burma that abut China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos. The centres of these regions are indeed sometimes far distant from borders as geo-political incisions of the nation upon the land.9 Many Kachin people living in Burma never visit or cross the Chinese or Indian borders. However, the awareness that an alternative geography spanning at least three nation states exists creates a distinctive understanding of borders as tangible demarcations of landscape. The more expansive term ‘borderworld’ may be preferable at times because the proximity to a borderline does not always determine the real or imagined interactions of people inhabiting these more widely drawn but interconnected spaces.10 It is a more liminal or at least multi-layered geography that is different in many ways to the imaginary of the modern nation state.11 In many life-choice situations, this (p.5) trans-border geography affects the possibilities, and constraints, of being Kachin, influencing decisions about where and how local people work, travel, receive education, have relatives, raise a family, and the strategies they adopt to maximise their incomes and their sense of security.

Yet this borderworld is a complex, uneven social and political construct, which it is difficult even for the most ardent of Kachin ethno-nationalists to make smooth. This complexity is produced at a number of levels. At the level of the state, there are some common features in how the various national systems of governance territorialise this region and configure the people within it as ‘ethnic groups’, but there are also distinctions. Different terminologies are used to describe each nation’s peripheral inhabitants, be that National Races, Scheduled Tribes or Minority Nationalities. Each term reflects distinctive processes through which these places and peoples were incorporated into their respective nations, as well as the responses of these people to these historical processes themselves.12 Today, the Burmese state employs the term Kachin in reference to a National Race with a strong emphasis on historical indigeneity as a determinant of authenticity. There are eight major National Races, including the Bamar (Burman) and the Kachin, but officially 135 recognised ethnic groups in all.13 In India, the cognate term Singpho reverberates with assumptions about the persistence of the Tribal anachronism in the modern world, the tribe being a self-reflective concept through which the Indian state can articulate its own notions of progress and development. There are 645 Scheduled Tribes in all, of which 19, including the Singpho, are deemed to be Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.14 In China, the category Jingpo exists as a counterpart to these other terms. Jingpo people are presented largely as part of a colourful surface attached to the overstretched tentacles of the Chinese state, one of the fifty-five officially recognised minority groups that make up the mosaic of the modern Chinese nation in addition to the dominant Han group. These (p.6) larger political contexts, therefore, fracture this space politically, culturally and socially, despite the evident and resilient contiguity of language and of kinship that sustains the modern imaginary of ethno-nationalism in some quarters. The result is a varied and uneven range of social geographies across this borderworld.

Unsurprisingly, different views of the borderworld and its peoples are produced from different vantage points. Whether one identifies as being Kachin or Singpho or Jingpo influences one’s perception of its various constraints and possibilities. Viewed from Delhi, or Kolkata, the Singpho area is a relatively unknown part of northeast, or North East India.15 Indian governments have long deemed this a difficult, troubled region where attempts at incorporation into the nation exist as an ideal yet still-ongoing project of the modern, secular Indian state and democratisation. The Indian state upholds certain rights and protections for distinct Tribal cultures, but Singpho people who live in the northeast rarely accept these claims of protection uncritically, knowing that they can entrap as much as they can liberate. Recently there has been a demographic shift that has seen many people identifying themselves as Singpho leaving lowland settlements in Assam to go to live in Arunachal Pradesh, re-affirming officially their rural rather than urban identities.16 The typical Singpho experience of the level playing field when outside ‘protected’ areas is that it is often a fictional social, economic, cultural and political ideal. Better, perhaps, to be officially a rural Tribal than an urban citizen if the latter results in the extinguishing of opportunities for distinct community representation in an often-hostile environment.17 The effect is to fix many in spaces seen (p.7) as separate from the normative model of Indian modernity, exacerbating experiences of marginalisation and exclusion rather than promoting a sense of incorporation. Their Tribal status is not without some advantages, but only within clearly defined geo-political limits.18

Staying in the northeast looking across the border into the Kachin State, Singpho people are sometimes concerned that developing closer trans-border relationships with Kachin nationalist elites may also be potentially challenging to their local distinctiveness. The predominantly Christian Kachin people of Burma are sometimes seen as potential suppressors of Singpho Theravada Buddhist beliefs. The cultural and rhetorical confidence that is so much a product of the intellectual life of the theological colleges of Myitkyina and Yangon in Burma can seem to threaten Singpho Buddhist self-identifications.19 Yet Kachin people in Burma do not feel like the oppressor: they know that when viewed from urban Yangon or Mandalay, the Kachin region has long been deemed a backward, volatile and marginal area whose people are ‘not yet ready’ for autonomous political structures.20 From this perspective, Kachin people are more inclined to assert their own strong sense of oppression and that they feel they are lacking many religious and political freedoms. For many, Christian conversion is not considered a legacy of colonial brain-washing but rather as a liberating force of mind, body and spirit that invigorates their struggle against the overwhelming claims of Burmese state-sponsored Theravada Buddhism and thus of Burmanisation in the post-colonial state. (p.8) Christianity has become their own marker of a distinctive Kachin modernity with political as well as spiritual implications.21

When we move to the Kachin State–Yunnan border, the perceptions of the borderworld and how local elites engage with systems of governance, and with each other, alter again. Here, Kachin and local Jingpo elites can together superficially seem at their most articulate as they negotiate with the local representatives of state power in China, not least because this is primarily a discourse hinged upon culture and economics rather than politics. The Kachin State contains many of the natural resources that China desires and needs22 and in recent years, especially during the ceasefire of 1994–2011, the large-scale passage of lorries transporting resources such as timber along the roads winding across the border into Yunnan was a marked feature of daily life.23 Such illicit movements (p.9) inevitably rely upon the complicity of many ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ actors alike and they have long historical roots. Travel to the China border from Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, can be relatively quick, as regular pick-up trucks run to Laiza when overt conflict with the Burmese military is in abeyance. Laiza is a trading town that has in recent decades built up at the base of the mountain where the KIA has its present headquarters.24 Many call it the ‘real’ Kachin capital and it is currently the main hub for the production of Kachin ethno-nationalist ideology and policy among its militarised elite.25 In recent years, the KIO/KIA have been able to carve out spaces of self-governance around this border town and signboards in Laiza proudly proclaim in Jinghpaw that this is Kachin Land: Jinghpaw Wunpawng Mungdan, or more commonly just Wunpawng Mungdan. Jinghpaw language schools, businesses, military training camps and so on have all been established in this part of the borderworld. They are the visible markers of distinctive political, social and economic lives that ethno-nationalists claim the central Burmese state has denied them in other areas since the military takeover under Ne Win in 1962.

Nonetheless, the fragile contexts that facilitate the relative autonomy of this border area are easily destabilised. This was seen clearly with the resumption of military action against the KIA by the Burmese military in June 2011, but is also demonstrated on a daily basis in the oppressive dynamics of resource extraction by Chinese businesses as many local people presently experience them.26 There is a historical legacy in this area of the latent power of the Chinese state and the violence with which it can manifest its displeasure. Protests elsewhere in China’s zone of control, such as in Tibet in 2008, may also result in border restrictions as far south as this, demonstrating that this area is intimately connected with the wider politics of the vast western regions under China’s control. Kachin nationalist elites have to manage their activities in and around the borderline and beyond (p.10) in ways that are cognisant of the wider Chinese state-defined objectives for Minority Nationalities in Yunnan, avoiding unnecessary problems with local representatives of Chinese state authority where possible. Kachin ethno-nationalist elites from Burma also have to be sensitive to the fact that non-Jinghpaw communities actually form the larger part of the Jingpo population in the Dai Jingpo Prefecture that borders Kachin state. Although there are many Jingpo people in China, most self-identify as Zaiwa not Jinghpaw. Many of them are equally as distrusting of any Christian proselytising and single-lens Kachin nationalist visions emanating from the Burma-Kachin side as are their distant kin in northeast India.

When shifting the perspective to the new, formal Kachin spaces in Thailand, the concerns, challenges and opportunities of the borderworld change again. Here, a small community of Kachin people have developed lines of communication very carefully and pragmatically with the Thai military and civil authorities out of their base in the village of Ban Mai Samakkhi in northern Chiang Mai Province, within touching distance of the borderline with Burma.27 They have negotiated a cultural space for themselves as the precursor to possible future political opportunities by articulating deference to the Thai Buddhist monarchy, notwithstanding their own Christian faith, and by allowing the Thai Royal Projects to direct the experiment of their ‘development’ as a nascent, belatedly designated northern Thai Hill Tribe.28 The village has a history of different groups occupying it as an entry point to political and civic interaction in Thailand. Its modern Kachin history was initiated by the settlement there of a group (p.11) of KIA veterans.29 They and their descendants have proceeded to dig their own furrow in this often-hostile environment. Kachin people resident in Thailand, of whom there are many both legal and illegal, have to undertake the lengthy, difficult task of acquiring a Hill Tribe identification card before they can access the modern civic domains that accrue to Thai citizenship. This access is determined presently only by proof of personal association with this small, very-often deserted, singular border village in which the Thai authorities are conducting their own socio-political experiment in how far to recognise Kachin people officially as a Hill Tribe within their country, and the number of cards available is strictly limited.30 Not surprisingly, the local Kachin representatives responsible for this carefully choreographed political interaction with the Thai state jealously guard the relationships they have built with local authorities over many years. They are also quick to resent the rather blunt claims to political leadership over them made by elites arriving intermittently from Myitkyina and Laiza.31

One could extend this multi-peripheral analysis to the many diasporic groups of Kachin people around the world. They represent the modern configuration of Jinghpaw-Kachin expansionism that will be a central historical dynamic in this book. Today, chain migrations operate in conjunction with the resettlement policies of international organisations to produce globally distributed communities of Kachin people worldwide: in Hounslow in London, Jacksonville in Florida, and most recently the incongruous transplantation of disoriented Kachin refugees to an impoverished Romania.32 All of these groups have had to adapt to new (p.12) environments and to understand quickly the social and political contexts in which their ‘Kachin-ness’ may be either welcomed, ignored or effaced. Each of these globally dispersed communities produces its own elites who in turn influence contemporary Kachin political discourse.33 While this new transnationalism is not the focus of this book, it is a context of increasing significance in the contemporary ideological development of modern Kachin ethno-nationalism, creating new strengths and new weaknesses, new points of possible fracture or segmentation, of debate, growth and introspection.34

Clearly, it is not enough to conceive of this borderworld through the notion of a singular centre and its periphery, or through the dynamics of a singular borderline. Likewise we cannot consider these various peoples who inhabit this borderworld as homogeneous socially, culturally or politically. Minorities have their own majorities and minorities, peripheries have their own centres and peripheries, and border regions are constructed through different scales of interaction as borderlines, borderlands and borderworlds. Understanding of these different social and political geographies in turn influences how people identify their place in local, regional and global lattices of relationships.35 This book attempts to explain some of the historical circumstances that have produced within this particular region (p.13) to the north of historic Burma and between India and China a distinctive borderworld in which the social ideology of Kachin ethno-nationalism has sustained one of Asia’s longest conflicts.36 This conflict has been mobilised around a specific ethnic identity, which was carved out of this complex set of local and regional interactions but was itself not a term used in self-reference by any of those concerned. It is not a history that takes at face value the ethno-nationalist discourse of dominant Kachin elites on this subject, which as this Introduction has demonstrated could never be imposed in an uncontested fashion across the peoples of this borderworld as a whole. Rather, it tries to understand how a modern socio-political discourse centred upon ideological claims about what it means both to be and to become Kachin emerged in response to historical experiences. It explores how new elites emerged in particular localities and social settings; how they naturalised and legitimised their authority; how they mobilised a movement of resistance to the modern Burmese state with this ethnicised identity at the centre of their ideological discourse. This book tries as far as possible to approach these issues on their own terms, privileging the narratives that this borderworld produces, working with and exploring the dynamics of how it deals with its own sense of complexity, and using predominantly Jinghpaw language sources to examine the production of its own ethno-nationalist social ideologies.

Whilst from the perspective of the various states of this part of Asia this history is firmly rooted in ‘peripheral’ visions, they are visions that emanate from a ‘periphery’ that is embedded in the flows and developments of regional and global histories. The chapters to follow reflect this. They move forward chronologically from the late eighteenth century to the present, but they also move geographically from west to east, from India to China, before the focus comes finally to rest on the ‘Kachin’ developments that emerged in relation to the late colonial and post-colonial Burmese nation state and upon which modern, militarised Kachin ethno-nationalism was (p.14) built. This is not, therefore, a conventional history of Burma. Indeed, in many ways it is not a history of Burma at all. Rather, it is an interpretation of how an area that was never fully part of the historic Burmese state, the Ahom state, the Indian state, the Chinese state, the British colonial state or any other state, developed along a particular historical trajectory in interaction with these systems. Consequently, it is not a local history, a national history, a trans-border or even a transnational history per se. Rather it is a study of how localism, nationalism, frontiers, borderlines and transnationalism emerged as political and social realities that influenced these historical experiences. However, this book seeks to look beyond these spatial dynamics and process geographies. It tries to understand the accompanying ideological transformations underpinning the historical processes of being and becoming Kachin in this complex South, East and Southeast Asian borderworld, over a period of two hundred years.

Kachin history and the problem of anthropology

As this Introduction has tried to make clear, there is a vibrant, complex modern world in which ideologies of being and becoming Kachin continue to be produced out of dynamic sets of relationships, although influenced by local, regional and global pasts. Yet making connections between the historical ‘Kachin’ and their modern selves has proved problematic in academic representations up to now.37 When talking about ‘Kachin’ history it is almost impossible to do so without reference to the anthropological writings of Edmund Leach, whose seminal work was Political Systems of Highland Burma.38 He and Jonathan Friedman, 39 have helped to transform this term of reference into one with which any anglophone anthropologist will at least have a passing acquaintance, as will many others studying the ‘non-western world’ across a range of social science disciplines. Yet, while both these writers saw this region as connected with regional and global historical processes, Friedman particularly so as a global anthropologist (p.15) although this was not clearly articulated in his early Kachin work, 40 their representations have produced a particularly difficult conversation between Kachin history and Kachin modernity.41 Their concern was to develop totalising, ahistorical, albeit historically framed interpretations, by which models of the prehistoric origins of ‘Kachin’ socio-political systems could be constructed through abstract accounts of historical cycles. James C. Scott has continued this orientation in his recent publication The Art of Not Being Governed, albeit primarily as a political scientist rather than as an anthropologist.42 Scott draws on Leach’s paradigm and considers this region and others broadly contiguous with it from a comparative global perspective through the writing of a Big History of upland environments. Although these authors are describing a certain kind of social world in which the iconic, historic ‘Imaginary Kachin’ are the object of our theoretical musings, they do not in fact provide us with threads by which we can connect these historical representations to the lived histories in which Kachin communities have participated in building their own sense of modernity.43 The analytical frameworks developed by these writers (p.16) artificially disconnect the contemporary contexts described at the start of this Introduction from the historical representations upon which they chose to focus.44

In the case of both Leach and Friedman, ‘Kachin’ ideology remained locked within a closed intellectual world for the purposes of sustaining a totalising vision of where, how and why ‘Kachin’ society emerged from an unknown historical past. They made no attempt to consider how history as a lived reality influenced the models they outlined. For Scott, too, his insistence that ‘traditional’ society was wiped out when hit by the meteorite of the modern state in about 1950, means that we are still not presented with intellectual threads by which we can hope to understand historical continuities between a pre-modern society and the role of KIA elites in Laiza, the complex trans-border experience of Gam Awng, the significance of Buddhism among the Singpho, of Christianity among the ‘Kachin’ or of communism among the Jingpo. Scott, like Leach and Friedman before him, argues for a separation between the ‘Kachin’ world that he describes and the analysis of Kachin society today.45

As Magnus Fiskesjö has outlined in relation to the Wa peoples in the China–Burma border region, so-called ‘anti-state’ Wa political structures could take on a wide variety of configurations historically in response to multiple local, political and economic dynamics.46 Yet despite the evidence (p.17) of this complexity, Wa socio-political systems have traditionally been interpreted as a form of anarchic primitivism, which isolates them from the political practices of the modern world. This interpretive limitation resonates with the Singpho-Jinghpaw or ‘Kachin’ case, too. In a Jinghpaw context, the details of political life have been subsumed by a disproportionate emphasis upon the apparently polar pulls of hierarchy and egalitarianism, of gumsa and gumlao, and the forces of oscillation between the two as a primary internal characteristic. Not only has this focus limited our appreciation of how Singpho-Jinghpaw elites were involved in a wider environment, it has also inhibited paying attention to other equally powerful dynamics within ‘Kachin’ political culture. This could include how such an expansive and variegated social grouping was able to maintain and repeatedly reconfigure, even extend, its ideological coherence over time. This is a historically key issue that this book will try to explore.

Talal Asad used the Kachin case as an example of how ethnographers and anthropologists have often addressed the concept of ‘Tribal’ ideology.47 He stated pertinently ‘historically specific discourses are typically reduced to the status of determinate parts of an integrated social mechanism’.48 For Asad, categories like gumlao, a term that has gained a certain notoriety with Leach’s ideas on socio-political oscillation, were inappropriately conceptualised as constants, the same no matter when or where they occurred and regardless of their empirical manifestations.49 Jinghpaw society just kept on reproducing itself even when all around it changed.50 The implication of this approach was clearly that Kachin ideological systems could never move beyond their primary social contradictions and self-defining intellectual and ideological limits.

This might not be so serious if it were not for the fact that theoretical and related ideological constructions about ‘traditional’ societies are still embedded in the political arrangements of this borderworld with its (p.18) contiguous nation states.51 The idea that ideological constraint defined the political lives of Tribal societies permeated the political management of areas defined as ‘the frontier’.52 In India and Burma, administrators exceptionalised such groups from the practices of political modernity, and upon these primitivist models they built and justified a formal administrative structure of Scheduled, Excluded, Partially Excluded and Frontier Areas, as we shall see. The communication between applied anthropology and colonial governance was in the ascendant at the point at which the political futures of the Hills in northeast India and Burma were being decided in the 1930s and 1940s.53 Colonial administrators asked to defer or deny Hill Tribe involvement in emerging political processes at national centres in the belief that these communities had to become politically better educated before they could participate in the debates of the modern nation state. Some, such as Verrier Elwin in India and H. N. C. Stevenson in Burma, insisted that Hill Tribes needed to be protected from such processes, as they would lead to the extinction of their traditional societies. The over-riding assumption that the ‘innate’ political ideologies of such groups could never become modern, that if they did so those societies would cease (p.19) to exist, or else that they had no political awareness other than that of their own social models and were constrained intellectually by the apparently static forces of ‘traditional’ thought, were powerful tools for those who wished to delimit their political participation at national centres, albeit for a variety of reasons ranging from the strongly empathetic to the racially chauvinistic.

Yet the arrangements made at this time are the legacy that still sustains present difficulties in making constitutional arrangements that allow for inclusive representation in Burma today. The model of politically immature or self-delimiting ideological systems remains intact among those who reductively explain all recent ethnic conflicts in Burma as being the result of residual antagonisms arising from ‘traditional’ hostilities. Others may use it to attribute all recent conflicts to British colonial administrative arrangements and, by implication, their easy manipulation of gullible Tribal minds. This provides a let-out for the post-colonial state and its failure to meet expectations for redistributive social and economic justice. It can also be used to justify ideas that such groups are politically immature and require to be represented rather than to represent themselves.54

In the preface to his 1998 edition of System, Structure and Contradiction, Jonathan Friedman stated that:

The historical, as well as the global, models offered in the body of the work are abstract models in which the ethnography is more an illustration than a problem. I do not take into account, except occasionally, and again for the sake of illustration, the processes or the results of the concrete histories of this area… I cannot correct this serious lack here, for it would require another kind of work, a concrete analysis of the real populations of the region in their historically specific circumstances. I hope such work will be forthcoming.55

I make no assumptions about this book fulfilling Friedman’s hopes, and achieving the task he describes would be so great as to be beyond the scope of a single volume or a single researcher. Yet the primary concern of this book is to explore the historical, ongoing, lived complexities of life for (p.20) communities to which the identity ‘Kachin’ is attached, and to understand how the conflict that has caused so much damage to the lives of so many people came into being and has been sustained socially for such a long time. This has occurred through the ongoing production of social ideologies by which elites tried both to influence and make sense of what was taking place around them. By presenting a historical outline of ideological change over a period of more than two hundred years, the objective is to challenge some of the intellectual constraints upon how we approach these areas historically and the dominance of particular representations of the kind already noted. By reimagining interactions, rather than locking local people into predetermined intellectual, historical and ecological bubbles, we can also in turn connect some parts of this region and its peoples outwards with the wider world. It is hoped that a more integrated understanding of the role of this borderworld in regional and global histories may also be gained as a result. In this way, the historical, iconic ‘Kachin’ may at least in part be reconnected with the modern world. The artificially imposed barrier erected in the middle of the twentieth century between their ‘tradition’ and their modernity can begin to be breached.

Kachin history and the problem of knowledge

Just as traditional anthropological discourse on this region has truncated the Kachin experience of the modern world, historical discourse, too, has perpetuated its own set of limitations. In this case, however, the problem of history has produced the almost complete exclusion of such communities from the possibility of serious historical analysis.

Ideology, one of the principal points of concern in this book, implies the ideas by which groups, societies and organisations define and explain the normative values of their communities, legitimise social structures and behaviours, rationalise, mobilise or justify their actions. In relation to groups such as the KIA, ideology might also usefully be defined as ‘a set of ideas that interpret an organization to relevant audiences in the social world’.56 As such, it is a concept that begs historical enquiry.57 Some would argue that ideology is a term that only becomes relevant in the context of industrialisation, secularism and modernity and that it is not at all (p.21) applicable therefore to ‘traditional’ societies.58 This is not the view adopted in this book.59 Here, the term non-pejoratively invokes ideologies as ‘maps of understanding for our social and political worlds’.60 These are products of all social environments and arise as part of ‘a co-operative process of group life’, 61 not entirely by imposition. Privileging the notion of ideological change is, therefore, hardly innovative in relation to the intellectual world that historians normally occupy. Yet this trans-border region has not been part of that intellectual world up to now.62 Historians have traditionally separated out groups such as ‘the Kachin’ from their main lines of enquiry, entrenching the idea that they are essentially impervious to historical study.

In recent years, there have been attempts at new historical approaches under the rubrics of Local History, Borderland History or ‘process geographies’, and Autonomous History.63 Prior to these efforts, no historically convincing framework existed for analysing centre–periphery interactions in ways that privileged the view of the ‘periphery’ from these parts of Asia. Edmund Leach made an early tentative suggestion as to how historians could conceptualise the spaces that he had previously theorised for anthropologists. In 1960 in ‘The Frontiers of “Burma”’ Leach suggested that the contrasting role of Sinitic influence in the hills, which were dominated by hierarchical and lineage-based systems, and Indic influence in (p.22) the ‘valleys’, where systems developed based upon ‘charismatic despotism’, could be a useful model for talking about the historical distinctions between these two ecologically defined zones.64 While this may provide us with a way of conceptualising the hills from a non-centre-oriented perspective, it does little to explain the dynamics of wider interactions. As Leach himself noted, such interactions were extensive, intimate and vital to both and should, therefore, consume a significant amount of our attention.65 Although the notion of interaction is also critical to James C. Scott’s recent analysis, similarly he does not explore the nodes of interaction, only the perceived outcomes, this time through the lens of diametrically opposed models of ‘state’ and ‘non-state’.66 We might use the terminology of ‘secondary states’ to provide an additional layer of analysis, as Magnus Fiskesjö has encouraged us to do following his study of the plethora of state and anti-state formations that manifest in Wa political systems on the Burma– China border.67 However, there is still a temptation to privilege one form of political structure as normative in relation to the forces of modernity while the other remains its antithesis. Historically these issues are perhaps not as clear cut as the terminology might suggest. After all, the various ways in which individuals, organisations and even state officials unsubscribe from the authority of the state is a subject of particular interest for those seeking to understand ‘failed states’, or issues related to transnationalism and globalisation. We lack a way of looking at these dynamics and of understanding the relations between these domains historically. Yet only if we can explore these dynamic relationships from a peripheral vantage point can the objective of exploring ideological transformations among ‘Hill Tribes’ seem rational as a historical enterprise, especially if we argue that these transformations have inevitably to be influenced by such interactions.

Traditionally in Southeast Asian history the notion of the mandala has been an important analytical tool for exploring centre–periphery dynamics in the absence of other concepts. The appeal of the term is not least because it is in the lexicon of state-based Hinduism and Buddhism and therefore (p.23) appears to be an indigenous term of reference in mainland Southeast Asia. Much of the literature exploring the mandala is challenging and conceptually demanding, 68 but the term has also suffered from a degree of uncritical overuse. There is a tendency to use it as if it were a description rather than a paradigm, and as if all participants actively shared the same ideological vision of legitimate power.69 Wolters’ concept of boundary-less multi-centred political systems, which he sees evolving into neo mandalas in the present, is enticing.70 Stanley Tambiah and Victor Lieberman have preferred to use other cosmological constructs, namely the galactic polity and the solar polity respectively, to shift the emphasis towards the gravitational pull of centres rather than the retrogression of their power outwards.71 This is helpful in that it enables us to conceptualise shifting dynamics of power in different places over time; it also allows for somewhat greater agency at the periphery either to participate or withdraw from participation. Nonetheless, the fundamental orientation of these models, is towards the power of a charismatic personality within a strong core polity as the defining political dynamic. Although the mandala remains a primary working tool for historians trying to conceptualise relations within and between indigenous political structures, it is less helpful in explaining how interstitial regions nested or niched between mandala or other centralising state systems functioned from their side in this kind of relationship.72 (p.24) This is especially true of groups whose social practices tended against the emergence of charismatic leaders, and whose segmentary kinship systems emphasised lineage and territory, all features characterised as antithetical to mandala polities.73 We have to find ways of looking beyond the mandala when its model of receding power becomes instead a metaphor for receding levels of insight; we need to find ways of upsetting the symmetry of vision when dealing with a space defined by asymmetry.74

If it is metaphors that we want, perhaps the notion of mandala could be replaced by Mandelbrot in these upland areas.75 Not only does it alliterate nicely but Mandlebrot and the aesthetically beautiful manifestation of fractals could provide us with many metaphors and analogies for understanding the Hills.76 First, it emphasises the creation of complexity out of simplicity, and certainly the great ethnographic and linguistic diversity of these regions is one of their most marked features. The self-similarity that is produced within borders is also an attractive metaphor, especially concerning the production of mimicry and alterity from interactions arising at the ‘contact zone’. Most importantly, the idea that complexity does not simplify when we change the scale of vision seems pertinent in a social environment where the simplicity of ethnic categories has been developed largely to efface the hyper-complexity of the social environment that lies beneath. At times in this book, this alternative metaphor will be drawn upon, but mainly with the intention of flagging at certain points the limitations of our conventional forms of representation that focus on central rather than ‘peripheral’ definitions of power. It is not intended here to develop it fully as an alternative paradigm. One lesson we may learn from Leach, Friedman and Scott is that while paradigm building may advance disciplinary thinking, it can produce intellectual lock-down in relation to specific places and peoples who have the dubious privilege of being a ‘case (p.25) study’ in the absence of appropriate empirical evidence.77 In this respect, both models and metaphors are less important than method. It is surely through methodological innovation that our historical enquiries into these regions and their peoples may be substantively progressed, at least in these early stages of developing new understandings of the histories of these areas.

In the recent discussions about ‘Zomia’, the highland geographical entity that Willem van Schendel first proposed as a tool for thinking about the weaknesses of regions as units of analysis, a good deal of criticism has been levelled at historians for our lack of engagement with these ‘upland’ regions.78 Yet even these criticisms have on the whole not been truly insightful about the epistemological difficulties that the study of such places and peoples creates for historical understanding.79 Some might see this book as a contribution to the kind of ‘Zomia Studies’ that James C. Scott says that he would like to see emerge through conferences and the like.80 Van Schendel’s conceptualisation of Zomia, however, was not a call for a new area of regional studies. The purpose of his article was to raise questions about the boundedness of knowledge production, its hierarchies, and the intersection of different scales. It stressed the significance of Borderland Studies and the importance of understanding transnational flows and process geographies.81 For van Schendel, these reorientations away from regional studies force us to reconsider global inter-relationships along new dynamics of knowledge production, and successfully integrate competing scales of knowing (local, regional and global) more effectively than can any regional focus alone. Van Schendel develops the areal notion of Zomia as a demonstration of the inherent weaknesses of area studies, (p.26) not as a call for the valorisation of a new one.82 It is method, therefore, that presents the greatest historical problem for a history of Kachin ideological change. Working with spaces, places and peoples that do not on the whole have many historical textual sources in their own languages, which are at best peripheral and typically invisible in the sources that we do have from neighbouring societies, presents major challenges in relation to concerns about historical proof and demonstration. They are complex and multi-faceted environments, with shifting vectors of interaction between themselves and the multiple systems, both adjacent and distant, with which they are in contact culturally, socially, politically and economically. The historical difficulty goes to a much deeper epistemological level than mere lip service to ‘oral history’ or ‘oral tradition’ can resolve, or a concern with the micro and the macro or with ‘structure’. The fundamental ways in which we construct historical knowledge and the means by which we penetrate time depth are really what are at stake. Simply inverting conventions of our normative state-oriented models as Scott does is an inadequate response to this deeper historical need. These social and political ethnoscapes are more than just the obverse of states, the antithesis of civilisation.83 Ultimately, we are no more able to integrate the histories of these peoples and places into our historical understandings than ever we were before if we cannot find ways of analysing their historical depth, complexity and transformation at least in part on their own terms: the historical burden remains.

Of course, historians must engage with a wide variety of materials and with ‘non-traditional’ sources. However, historians have been exploring such sources for a long time and for historians of the non-western world, this is particularly the case. Indeed, historians, anthropologists and a wide range of social science and humanities scholars have worked relentlessly on inter-disciplinary conversations, if not always collaborations, about non-textual, socially produced artefacts for many decades.84 Yet it needs also to be acknowledged that mixed methods are not enough when they materialise in outcomes that are merely anthropology with a bit of history mixed in or history with a bit of anthropological terminology as colour.85 (p.27) These kinds of endeavours only scratch the surface of the intellectual challenge of how to push the historical boundaries of knowledge about these areas. The truly cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary work necessary in settings such as this by definition must challenge the boundaries and pretensions of knowing claimed by all the disciplines it brings to the table. The epistemological limits of knowledge in different fields of study must themselves provide the openings for exploration: the outer limits at which time-stretched history can do no more in conversation with anthropology confronted by an honest account of its own diachronic limitations should help us to identify the points requiring intellectual expansion. However, while the results should be both discomforting and intellectually disorienting in relation to the normative disciplinary standards with which all participants work, there does also need to be a dialectical resolution of the problem of historical context.86 In relation to the upland and highland areas of this region, local contingencies must be closely tested and compared before being exponentially expanded upon; conversely, also, these locations need to be approached not as narrow research sites but with an eye on the wider inter-disciplinary concerns, including the historical, to which they might speak.

Nonetheless, this history, as any other, is obviously influenced by the bounds of possibility. The access or otherwise to sources in a general sense is a very real rather than hypothetical problem for a historian. In this book, a wide variety of ‘non-traditional’ sources have been used: archival materials, oral histories and testimonies, ritual, ritual language and studies of language endangerment, visuality and materiality, studies of cognition and participant observation, conducted over more than fifteen years. For example, this book attaches particular importance to the historical analysis of ritual in context. The analysis of ritual and performance is hardly an innovation, but there is perhaps much more that we can do to explore the (p.28) historical dimensions of these subjects in relation to these borderworlds of South, East and Southeast Asia than has been done to date. The intellectual and social threads that connect ritual back into historical time and place also make it an essential point of reference. Yet this history also assembles and privileges such disparate sources because they constitute the primary and often fragile intellectual capital from which this study has emerged: in particular, the study of Jinghpaw language material in the context of non-Christian ritual practices that was undertaken in collaboration with a group of local Kachin researchers during 1996–9.87 During this time, I worked on an almost daily basis with Kachin colleagues under the tutelage of Pungga Ja Li on the preservation and study of an extensive corpus of ritual recitations and supplementary materials that had originally been compiled by the Yup Uplift Committee of Myitkyina.88 These unique and vulnerable materials had been collated in all areas of the Kachin State prior to 1993, in a project that was initiated and defined by local researchers, who originally envisaged the output of their work to be local and in local languages.89 This very rare documentation, which was in a considerably deteriorated state when we started the task of preserving and annotating it, constituted a unique set of resources and its detailed study over a number of years has facilitated many of the interpretations presented here. This material is not the stock in trade of modern historians, yet its very nature begged questions about history in this setting, and its juxtaposition with a set of historical photographic images in my possession reinforced this past– present dialogue.90

Yet significant in this collaboration was that for more than a generation historical knowledge within these areas has been oriented towards a dominant ethno-nationalist discourse to articulate its local sense of crisis. (p.29) This has in turn significantly reduced the communicative social memory of ‘traditional’ history. It is a challenging environment for a historian to enter. This context meant that some of the most interesting questions were not primarily about history as a series of defined temporal moments or events, but about history as a process of diachronic flows and counter-flows, of changes, transformations and continuities. As we entered different domains of translation, this study enabled learning to take place about the historical movement of ideas, how ideological representations are negotiated, configured and transmitted within and between different so-called ‘Kachin’ communities on a large and small scale, through deference to the sacred and deference to the profane. This was especially so in the process of intra-cultural translation from the archaic ritual language to modern colloquial prose intended for a local audience. In short, this study revealed a community negotiating its history with itself through the many-layered discursive relationships it constructed with its past in the present. I was a blank piece of paper on which these Kachin researchers could write and I came to be fascinated by this process of their writing, erasing, cutting, pasting and editing my knowledge in relation to the notion of history itself as our collective discussions deepened and broadened over a period of years. One outcome of this process was a degree of sensitisation to the discourses of historical change in this region on its own terms. Only after this was it possible to penetrate the conventional tools of the historian’s craft, to suggest counter-currents to the archival record, the backchat of community knowledge, and the habitus of history itself within otherwise historically ‘invisible’ communities that were, of course, there all the time. This research, conducted in a small, airless and frequently electricity-free room in downtown Yangon in the mid- to late 1990s, provides the intellectual bedrock of this book and has shaped the framework of its inter-disciplinary methodological concerns. In this context, the concern of this book with the intangibles of belief systems and ideology may also start to seem more reasonable and rational as natural subjects of historical enquiry than they might at first appear to be. These tools also provide a means by which the artificial barrier erected between the ‘traditional’ Kachin and their own sense of modernity can begin to be breached.

Terminology and representation

If there are anthropological problems relating to historical contingency, historical problems relating to what subjects it may be possible to study, (p.30) the metaphors and models that one employs and the methods, there are also difficulties in relation to how to talk about this region from a historical perspective. It is especially hard to avoid ahistorically employing terms of ethnic identification without misrepresenting their temporal specificities. Although this history privileges the literary Jinghpaw dialect of Burma and its non-literary ritual forms, this is inevitably a reduction of the range of dialects and other forms of representation arising between the multiple groups that are present locally. Only a fragment of historical possibilities may emerge from these sources. The Jinghpaw language is but one of many local languages, the Jinghpaw-speaking nexus is itself very diverse and sometimes internally conflictual, as we have seen, and rarely is language a determinant of ethnic identification for individuals. The intention in this book, however, is to promote the principle of using non-national languages as a historical research tool for writing larger-scale histories. C. Patterson Giersch has made an extremely valuable contribution to the history of the Yunnan frontier under the Qing dynasty, incorporating extensive use of Tai Lue language documentation.91 However, this and other works are frequently made viable only because of the literary heritage of particular sub-national language groups, in this case Tai Lue, and the presence of textual documentation through which their histories can be approached. In contrast, this history seeks to explore the histories of communities that have left almost no own-language textual trace of themselves at all. Others with greater linguistic abilities than mine may in future attempt a broader and deeper integration of multiple language domains as appropriate and to suggest methods that transcend the limits of this work. However, in terms of the particular objective in this book to understand transformations in Kachin ethno-nationalist ideology, clearly a study using Jinghpaw sources, in both its colloquial and ritual forms, is not a bad place to make a start and it is an inevitable outcome of my own limitations.

The ethnographic terms used in this book are also a compromise, but where appropriate the key terms employed are themselves subjected to historical critique, especially where we may learn more from them about ideological concepts and contexts of their change. For most Jinghpaw-identifying people, whether they live in India, Burma, China or elsewhere, the primary identifiers they use in communication with each other are lineage and kinship terms. It is these that enable the most fluent social communications to take place, and which facilitate a sense of (p.31) inclusion into a wider, spatially distributed community or communities. The principal kinship terms that will be referenced are mayu, which is the term used here for the family of those who give daughters into marriage, dauma as the term used here for family groups of ‘wife takers’, and kahpu kanau for those kin groups who cannot intermarry.92 These relationships are of fundamental importance in this history, as will become obvious even by the end of Chapter 1. While apologies may be due to those who find such terms inconvenient in a history of this kind, a genuine attempt has been made to reduce such references to a manageable minimum.

In addition, it is exceptionally difficult to write a larger-frame history such as is being attempted here through the detailed discussion of multiple segmentary lineage systems. To do so is the Holy Grail of many Kachin historians and local researchers who have engaged piecemeal in the task over a long period.93 Such a history may be a future prospect, but it will present serious intellectual and conceptual challenges to all who attempt to construct it or engage with it. Most readers of this book will presumably not have a very keen interest in the minutiae of local social relationships and the endless family segments that are produced and reproduced in specific localities. In this book, therefore, only the most familiar ethnographic terms have been used, and they are intended to convey general social orientations rather than to denote fixed ethnographic boundaries. However, this does produce some divergence between chapters especially in the use of ethnonyms. Where the focus is on an Indian context, Singpho will be used; where the focus is Indo-Burma cross-border kin-related contexts, Singpho-Jinghpaw may be used; when referring mainly to the Jinghpaw nexus in Burma, Jinghpaw will be used; when referring to an emergent context of modern ethno-nationalism, the term Kachin will be used, and likewise for Jingpo in China. Other ethnonyms that have a significant place in this text are those of the other main modern Kachin sub-groups, the Lawngwaw, Lachik, Nung Rawang, 94 Zaiwa and Lisu respectively. The names (p.32) of major segments of these groups will be referred to when appropriate. Again, these terms imply orientations to a particular sub-set of social and political relationships rather than clearly demarcated ethnographic boundaries for individuals. However, this latter comment should not be correlated with any notable sense of confusion among local people about when and how to apply these terms meaningfully in their social lives; there is no evidence of their confusion in the historical record, even though local officials may have been confused themselves.

Reducing the representation of ethnographic density in this way may for some people undermine a sense of anthropological relevance. However, this book does operate with a sense of what Jinghpaw society was in the past. To understand the historical trajectory of how it was that the term ‘Kachin’ itself came to acquire a particular martial kind of ideological authority, it is necessary to define a starting point from which that development can be assessed.95 This is taken as the late eighteenth century. We know that at this time, the identity Jinghpaw (expressed with some slight dialect differences) was a commonly used term in this region, being a maximal level socio-cultural self-identification for a nexus of segmentary lineage groups who practised differentiated exogamy across the whole of the region from the Ahom kingdom of Assam to the Tai statelets of what became the Shan States and Yunnan. Their asymmetrical affinal kinship relations were explained by a cosmological construct of genealogy and patrilineal descent, expressed through a common vocabulary of ritual practices performed in an esoteric ritual language based upon dyadic sets, which was broadly understandable across this whole region by initiates who constituted a ritual elite.96 These ritual practices were supported by colloquial and ideological renderings of myth in a culture–language framework that seems also to have been recognised unproblematically by local communities as being a domain of performance and praxis deemed to be Jinghpaw. This does not imply that there were no tensions or inconsistencies in the use of this referent. By the late eighteenth century, Jinghpaw social life operated as a very complex system in its details, with great elaboration of myth and ritual and diversity of practice on the ground, and it tended towards the production of local and sub-regional distinctions in different political and economic (p.33) environments. However, this does not mean that local people utilising this term were incapable of rationalising these difficulties in their own discourse or in discourse with others, as we shall see. As noted previously, there seems to have been no particular problem by this time as to how or when to use this term in relation to a range of other terms that may also have had local or individual saliency. In this way, we can say that ‘Jinghpaw’ already functioned as a well-established, regionally understood, generalised political category and socio-ritual system by this time.

This socio-ritual and political Jinghpaw system was also dynamic: it could incorporate many subsidiary dialects, be they socio-linguistic, political or symbolic. It was also a relatively open system, for which building affinal relations through ritual was key. Its political and social structures at this time facilitated expansion, with widely dispersed groups being integrated through weak kinship ties across the whole area; indeed, these weak kinship ties were fundamental to this dynamic expansion at this particular time. One element that will be somewhat downplayed in this work is the ecological context of ‘Kachin’ society. This is partly a response to the overly deterministic accounts of the ecological positioning of Jinghpaw society that have dominated so many representations of Jinghpaw or Kachin ‘political systems’ until now. The relationship between Jinghpaw culture and the environment in which it was produced was intimate and deep, and this book does not wish to dislodge the importance of that connection. However, what it does not seek to do is to fix Jinghpaw or latterly ‘Kachin’ society as something that can only operate authentically in one particular ecological environment. In this sense, it is useful to consider the political interactions and influences that produced their own influence upon the Jinghpaw relationship with the environment rather than see ecology as the deus ex machina of all ‘Kachin’ historical or anthropological developments in ways that denies their capacity for transformation and agency.

The historically key point here is that the Jinghpaw social world that we begin to track in this history was already an established, clearly distinguishable, socially and culturally sophisticated system of considerable complexity. This complexity also indicates that by this time, the social and cultural processes of Jinghpaw expansionism had been embedded in this region over a long, if indeterminate, period. It functioned as a ‘mature’ system in relation to the many different Asian cultural and political systems of governance and authority with which it interacted. Indeed, long-term interactions with these polities and with trans-regional trade routes must have contributed to producing this mature social environment. The expansion that we see at the end of the eighteenth century was headed by (p.34) elites oriented towards hereditary chieftainship as the normative ideological model of Jinghpaw society, although within this there were different rankings and types of authority. Gumlao was a historical and social term of reference, but there is no evidence that gumlao was significant as the normative political value for Jinghpaw communities anywhere across this region at this particular time. Gumsa-oriented expansionism, therefore, is the key historical dynamic of Jinghpaw society that provides the general starting point for analysing the ideological process of being and becoming Kachin with which this book is concerned.

Structure of the book

As noted, the chapters to follow will move forward chronologically from the late eighteenth century to the present, but will also move geographically from west to east. However, in addition each chapter will also explore a different facet of historical method. The purpose in this regard is to show how different scales of analysis, different kinds of sources and methodological approaches provide different insights to inform the subject as a whole. Most importantly, however, this is necessary in order to utilise as wide a range of ‘indigenous’ source materials as possible. Obviously, there will be unevenness in the range and utility of local language source materials that can be accessed from an environment locked in conflict for nearly half a century and without a substantive array of own-language historical documentation or safe places for securing and preserving its historical ephemera.97 Collectively the chapters point to the wider issues concerning inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches and historical knowledge discussed previously.

Chapter 1 will begin in Assam. Historically, Assam was the entry point for direct British colonial contacts between the Singpho and the Jinghpaw, and from these contacts, much of the modern history of being and becoming Kachin began to evolve. The objective of Chapter 1 is to show how Singpho and Jinghpaw political elites were affected by regional and global changes from the end of the eighteenth century onwards, and thus to begin the process of reconceptualising these environments and the key historical actors operating within them as full participants in the grand (p.35) sweep of regional and global change. The history of the tea trade in India set in train a new geo-political process by which different administrative systems in the longer term constructed the terms Singpho, Kachin and Jingpo as distinct political and ethnographic categories. One outcome of these developments was that a large-scale uprising of Singpho-Jinghpaw elites from both sides of the Assam–Burma border occurred in 1843. We see in Assam at this time how exclusion, rather than flight or innate desire for separation as Scott might argue, was embedded in political interactions very early on in these encounters as a facet of changes to global capital flows. As such, this history reveals much about the political and economic processes of exclusion that have a long trajectory in the emergence of later conflicts in the post-colonial state. Methodologically this chapter is more driven by the colonial archive than is any other, but this reflects the density of materials that can accumulate around issues that were of concern to government in these areas as the new economic arrangements of empire became established. However, this chapter also describes a more detailed local social landscape as a counterpoint to the official narratives, particularly considering local migration and kinship patterns and how these affected political outcomes in a Singpho context.

In Chapter 2, questions are raised again about the nature of the revolt in 1843 and to what extent one might be able to see a proto-ethno-nationalist movement in these events. The line of analysis moves forward to consider the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the historically tumultuous events occurring in all compass directions around the ‘Kachin’ region. Expanding the scale of vision to a cross-border world enables somewhat different conclusions to be reached about the causes underlying the apparent unity of the revolt in 1843. This again demonstrates how global and regional events during these years had a tangible impact upon Jinghpaw social relationships at this time. Attention is also given in this chapter to a more detailed consideration of gumlao and the implications of these chaotic mid-century years for the delimitation of Jinghpaw ideological transformation. The context for a transformative notion of history rather than an ideologically constrained cyclical one starts to build through weight of evidence in this chapter. However, beyond the establishment of context, the historical burden once more is to demonstrate interactions and responses beyond a self-limiting Jinghpaw ideological world. In this case, Jinghpaw ritual practice becomes significant as a source. A ritual emerged at this time called the Tawn Nat, which is significant for the way in which it seems to map on to emerging ideologies of power in this late nineteenth-century borderworld. The ritual details a meeting between a Jinghpaw chief and (p.36) the Konbaung dynasty ruler, King Mindon. It is at the boundary meeting points of different ideological visons such as are expressed in this ritual that the dynamics of interaction and influence might well be explored. What is outlined in this case is a borderworld where ideological conflicts were acute at this time. The ritual suggests that significant shifts were taking place in the ways that legitimate power was being negotiated and constructed ideologically at this time, and that these constructions had many points of political reference. In turn, these shifts were historically important for providing new ground in which later ethno-nationalist movements created by new elites could sow the seeds of their own legitimate authority.

Moving on to Chapter 3, the focus again is on the boundary meeting points and interactions between so-called ‘state’ and ‘non-state’. As noted earlier, typically the political and historical accounts of regions such as this rely upon projections outwards from the centre to the periphery. It is the contention in this book, however, that to understand how elites may have responded to new developments emerging from the various political centres of the region we need to understand how they interacted with them and understood them from their point of view. This is all part of the historical challenge that this book tries to address. This chapter will explore this issue through a new set of interactions, as attention moves forward chronologically to the end of the nineteenth century and eastwards towards the border with Yunnan. Chapter 3 takes up the metaphor of the fractal landscape of the Burma and Yunnan boundary to see how the socio-political management of the mountains between these two state systems twisted the mandala model of politics, forcing it into new shapes as it passed through these interstitial domains. In this case, the complex socio-political relations of this boundary area also produced a distinctive model of cross-group integration between Jinghpaw and non-Jinghpaw groups. This was partly in response to pressures and changes within other regional systems of governance. It relied upon a model of self-similarity produced along the distinctive ‘fractal plane’ of this borderworld on the east. By the beginning of the twentieth century this model of social similarity was increasingly important if not vital to the ideological underpinnings of a new, emergent Kachin ethno-nationalist ideology, as we shall see.

In Chapter 4, we move on to the period of late colonialism in this region. Rather than being a broad-sweep political history of this period, the focus is relatively narrow in this chapter. This is conceived deliberately to make an intervention against current assumptions about the origins of ethnic conflict in the Kachin region and the relations of Kachin elites to colonial systems. Prevailing historical interpretations of the impact of colonialism (p.37) on Kachin ideological models tend to be rather simplistic. In particular they rely on the notion that it was through the experience of colonialism that Kachin ethno-nationalist ideology became endemically antagonistic to the Burmese state, an outcome therefore of colonial manipulation and artifice. In this regard, two issues in particular are often cited: recruitment into colonial military forces and conversion to Christianity. The discussion of colonialism in this chapter takes just one of these issues and explores it in some depth to show how the colonial military experience fed into an emergent Kachin ethno-nationalist ideology. Reactions in this region were more antagonistic towards the colonial experience than is usually recognised and local recruitment histories reveal a much more fragmented and contentious domain of interaction with the colonial state, even by those incorporated by its systems, than is usually acknowledged. If there are ever to be substantive solutions to present conflicts, which look beyond political structures to consider deeper social problems, more nuanced social analysis of the colonial experience within different communities may prove in the longer term to be an important part of that process.

This leaves us, however, with the vexed question not so much as to why conflict should emerge in the early 1960s, but rather as to how it did so. We need to pose questions and find answers that go beyond the political narratives with which we are most familiar. This is the focus of Chapters 5 and 6. As the title Being and Becoming Kachin suggests, the main concern of this book is how it was that certain groups were able to claim authority over ideologies of political and social identity, coming finally to legitimise an armed uprising against the newly independent nation of Burma under the flag of Kachin ethno-nationalism. Just as this is not a conventional history of Burma, neither is it a political history of the emergence of conflict in the standard sense. The concern in these chapters is to show how a particular ideology of Kachin society and politics gained traction in distinct, historically contingent contexts and how this was used to mobilise and explain social action, particularly the recourse to violence. In Chapter 5, the focus is upon the impact of World War II. It uses documentation produced by a local Veterans’ Association to reconsider the impact of militarisation upon Kachin political culture during and after World War II. It considers the emergence of new youth groups and how they influenced a traditional model of political culture, reorienting it towards new political institutions and constitutional questions. Their influence upon the decision making of Kachin elites at the Panglong conference is considered in detail. In Chapter 6, attention turns to the first decade following independence to consider the slide towards the violence that emerged with the founding of (p.38) the KIA in 1961. A case study is threaded through the discussion, exploring the rationale given by one of the first soldiers to sign up to join the Kachin Independence Army, Nhkum Naw, 98 as to why he felt compelled not only to join such an ethno-nationalist movement but also to be part of creating it. He was there from the earliest inception of the movement, long before it had acquired any significant munitions and while it still operated as a disconnected group of small, secret cells. His is a partial account, but it raises important general social questions about how this conflict started, many of which are absent in the regular political analyses of its origins. Again, the account suggests the great value of scaling up such socially embedded historical research both quantitatively and qualitatively if we really wish to understand how such a widespread, armed political movement could appear, grow apparently so quickly and last for so long. As with the previous chapter, the account may also have much to teach us about the possible continuation or re-emergence of such conflicts in the future. This is especially so if political solutions deal inadequately with the substantive social issues such as the experience of the education system that underlie the emergence of movements of armed resistance and cause them to spread in ways beyond the capacity of states to control or fully to understand.

The effects that the long-term experience of conflict in this region had upon social ideologies of being and becoming Kachin are considered in Chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 7 presents an overview of how violence in the Kachin region intersected with other areas in this borderworld. It tries to explain the pressures for ideological integration around the identity Kachin, and how this produced a new ethnonymic referent, Wunpawng. One of the features of this book that may disconcert some people is that conversion to Christianity does not become a focus of analysis until quite late, and this is not dealt with until we reach Chapter 8. The argument in this book is intended not to undermine the significance of this attachment but rather to re-historicise it more appropriately. Ideological movements such as widespread conversion to Christianity are often intimately connected to feelings of threat and vulnerability. As conversion rates increased exponentially only in tandem with the experience of post-colonial conflict, conversion to Christianity should not be identified unreflexively as a cause rather than a consequence of these experiences. As with the issue of colonial militarism, more detailed, historically contingent analysis is required. The scope of Christian conversion within the American Baptist (p.39) mission during the colonial period is broadly outlined in this chapter, but Christianity’s influence upon the development of new social ideologies of being and becoming Kachin is considered mainly in relation to the years of conflict from the early 1960s until the ceasefire in 1994, rather than before. This is also conceived deliberately as an intervention against conventional representations of this issue. We should at least try to conceptualise what a history of the origins of this conflict might look like if we reimagined the issue of Christian conversion unencumbered by its conventional set of overly determined historical consequences. Chapter 8, therefore, takes up the issue of how the experience of conflict itself has led to a proliferation of Kachin Christian identity discourse within Burma. In particular, it explores the cognitive reconstruction of history through the dominance of Christian theological modelling of the ‘Kachin’ past. In this case, the set of oral traditions and ritual recitations mentioned earlier in this Introduction are examined in more detail to show how ideological transformations can be traced within them as part of an active process of ideological and social memory realignment produced in a context of conflict.

Chapter 9 moves to the post-1994 ceasefire setting. It takes as its focus an analysis of the manau festival. The manau has become the main symbolic arena for representation of the Singpho-Kachin-Jingpo in the nations of India, Burma and China respectively, as well as more recently in Thailand and in diaspora communities worldwide. Its value in this study is that it carries an important ideological burden in contemporary ethno-nationalism as an expressive medium by which notions of socio-political alliance, historical multi-group relationships and contemporary political concerns negotiated by elites in private and semi-public settings are displayed in the public domain. For it to take its present form, the ritual had to undergo significant ideological repositioning over time, especially from the colonial period onwards, and a historical account of this forms a part of this chapter. However, it then explains how the manau in post-1994 ceasefire settings has been used, not only to reinforce a prevailing authoritative, hegemonic ideology of Kachin-ness that became entrenched during the years of conflict, but also to challenge and renegotiate it. The post-ceasefire situation created new constraints upon Kachin ethno-nationalist elites in terms of how they expressed their visions of unity, and the degree to which they were able to over-ride other discourses that threaten those visions. What is revealed by exploring the manau festival is a constant, ongoing process of adjustment and realignment around ideologies of being and becoming Kachin. As such, despite the apparent cultural essentialism of the present mode of performance, the manau also reveals a more vibrant political (p.40) and civic discourse about Kachin modernity than is ever deemed visible through the conventional state-dominated representations of these groups in the various national systems of this region. In this way, study of this performance in various contexts also provides a valuable loop back into the historical processes of ideological transformation that have been the concern of the book throughout, demonstrating some of its dynamic capacities of reconfiguration and transformation in a complex, multi-layered, political and social borderworld environment over time.

Ultimately, therefore, the aim of this book is to delineate a sense of depth and transformation in this area that is thought to be ‘without history’, preferring to see it instead as historically and intellectually complex and as a vital, integral constituent part of the history of the wider region as a whole. It will start, however, by considering the ways in which economic exclusions have fed into long-term ideologies of resistance, an issue to which we return in the brief Conclusion. To start this story we must return once again, therefore, to Assam where this book began. There we can start to understand how past exclusions still ricochet through contemporary political and social discourses, and begin the process of drawing those pasts into our understandings of the present more fully through the history of tea in Assam and the first Singpho revolt.


(1) Gu or Agu is one of the many kinship terms in Jinghpaw that help people to identify their social relationships with each other. In this case, it may be best translated as brother-in-law because of the kinship relationship between my husband, Hkanhpa Tu Sadan, and Gudung Nong. Sometimes this term may be translated as father-in-law; neither English term is adequate to the task of evoking the specificities of the relationship in a Jinghpaw context. There have been many discussions of Jinghpaw kinship terms, but a good starting point for the controversies is Edmund Leach, Rethinking Anthropology (London: Athlone Press, 1961).

(2) The location of the manau festival changes every two years so that it circulates around all the principal Singpho settlement areas in Arunachal Pradesh, bringing dispersed people together as well as demonstrating civic vitality, as will be discussed later in this book.

(3) Gam Awng’s real name has been changed. The Singpho people are part of the same kinship, language and culture nexus as the Jinghpaw of Burma, where they are most frequently referred to as ‘Kachin’, and the terms originally reflected dialect differences of the same ethnonym. The differing orthographies for Singpho and Jinghpaw arose from regionally variant pronunciations of sibilants and fricatives. Some proof of this may be gleaned from a contemporary Singpho word list compiled in Assam by the missionary Revd N. Brown and published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1837. This list of common nouns could easily be read and understood by Jinghpaw speakers inside Burma today, but certain words which in modern ‘standard’ (Myitkyina dialect) Jinghpaw would be pronounced with a fricative, in Singpho were pronounced with a sibilant—for example, shata (moon) in Jinghpaw was transcribed by Revd Brown as sata in Singpho. This is the same linguistic trait that principally differentiates the pronunciation Singpho from Jinghpaw. The transcription -ph- reflected an aspirated /p/, as in Romanisations of Burmese words. Some editors later transcribed this as /f/ as in ‘telephone’, so one sometimes reads Singfo. /f/ is not a sound common to Jinghpaw although it is used in some dialects, such as Gauri, in eastern Kachin State as well as in some dialects in Assam. The Baptist missionary Ola Hanson consolidated the convention -hp- for aspirate /p/ so today Kachin people inside Burma use the spelling Jinghpaw.

(4) Anonymous, Kachin (Wunpawng) Photograph Album, Exhibition Hkridip Naugup Manau, Laiza, 2008, pp. 62–5; Maran Brang Di, personal interview, Burma–China border, 10 April 2008; Lt. Gen. Gauri Zau Seng, personal interview, Burma–China border, 12 April 2008.

(5) Sanjib Baruah, Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005); Sanjib Baruah, India against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999). Both give excellent summary accounts of the wider politics of India’s northeast and its ongoing conflicts.

(6) Minority languages are not taught in any formal state education context in Burma and so language tuition outside the home in non-national languages has become an important civil domain for community identities. For comparative social and political contexts see: D. Bradley, ed., Papers in South-East Asian Linguistics. No. 9. Language Policy, Language Planning and Sociolinguistics in South-East Asia (Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1985); Leo Suryadinata Lee Hock Guan, ed., Language, Nation and Development in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2007); Sumit Ganguly Michael E. Brown, ed., Fighting Words: Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in Asia (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003);A. L. Rappa and Lionel Wee, eds., Language Policy and Modernity in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand (New York: Springer, 2006); Amy B. M. Tsui and James W. Tollefson, eds., Language Policy, Culture and Identity in Asian Contexts (Mahwah, NJ and London: Lawrence Erlbaum and Eurospan, 2006).

(7) See, for example, V. Joshi, ‘The Birth of Christian Enthusiasm among the Angami of Nagaland’, Journal South Asia special issue: Northeast and Beyond: Culture and Change, December (2007), although there is a lot of published material about this feature of modern ‘Naga’ identity. See also M. Wettstein, ‘Origin and Migration Myths in the Rhetoric of Naga Independence and Collective Identity’, in Origins and Migrations in the Extended Eastern Himalayas, ed. T. Huber and S. Blackburn (Leiden: Brill, 2012), which also has an excellent bibliography detailing many local publications relevant to the local discourse on Naga identities.

(8) In recent years there has been a plethora of seminars and conferences of various sizes in which the ‘Crisis of Area Studies’ reflecting this kind of reality has been addressed. Some of the most important published contributions to this debate include V. T. King, ‘Southeast Asia: Personal Reflections on a Region’, in Southeast Asian Studies: Debates and New Directions, ed. Cynthia Chou and Vincent Houben (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006) and P. Kratoska, R. Raben and H. S. Nordholt, eds., Locating Southeast Asia: Geographies of Knowledge and Politics of Space (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2005), in which Willem van Schendel’s article on ‘Zomia’ was republished pp. 275–307 from the original in W. van Schendel, ‘Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance: Jumping Scale in Southeast Asia’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20, no. 6 (2002).

(9) Mary P. Callahan, Political Authority in Burma’s Ethnic Minority States: Devolution, Occupation and Coexistence (Washington, DC: East–West Center, 2007).

(10) The term ‘borderworld’ is used by Wim van Spengen but in his work he focuses mainly on trading connections. See Wim van Spengen, Tibetan Border Worlds: A Geo-Historical Analysis of Trade and Traders (New York: Kegan Paul International, 1998).

(11) B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1983).

(12) See R. Parkin, ‘Proving “Indigeneity”, Exploiting Modernity: Modalities of Identity Construction in Middle India’, Anthropos 95, no. 1 (2000) in which he discusses three different strategies for claiming ‘Tribal’ or ‘caste’ status in modern India by three different groups, and the role of myth and history in the formulation of each claim.

(13) The major National Races are the Bamar, Kachin, Shan, Mon, Kayin (Karen), Kayah, Rakhine (Arakanese) and the Chin.

(14) The status of Scheduled Tribe is recognised in India’s constitution along with Scheduled Castes in Articles 342 and 341 respectively. The designation is intended to mark certain groups out as socially, educationally and economically ‘backward’ and therefore requiring greater political protection within the state to ensure their development. See K. Kapila, ‘The Measure of a Tribe: The Cultural Politics of Constitutional Reclassification in North India’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14, no. 1 (2008).

(15) Baruah, Durable Disorder; Baruah, India against Itself. Baruah has discussed how the use of the term the North East as a capitalised designator of a political space has tended to exacerbate its exceptionalism within the discourse of the Indian nation. See alsoD. McDui-Ra, ‘Between National Security and Ethno-Nationalism: The Regional Politics of Development in Northeast India’, Journal of South Asian Development 3, no. 2 (2008).

(16) I am grateful to Gudung Nong and other political elites in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh for discussing these issues with me during May 2008.

(17) The village panchayat system gives a degree of local self-government in Indian villages and control of the village council is deemed a main ground-level opportunity for controlling or influencing local affairs. Singpho elites resident in Assam feel that they have reduced levels of representation in this system because of their relatively small numbers compared with other groups. As there is no fixed size for the village panchayat, it is left to the state legislature. It can thus become a site of contest between groups who feel politically pressured to increase their demographic incorporation or, as in the case of the boundary lines between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as in Tirap District, push to have lands included as Autonomous under the Scheduling Acts and in this way inhibit the settling of lands by non-Scheduled groups. This is a particularly tense issue in relation to the possible opening up of the Stillwell or Ledo Road that was built to connect India, Burma and China during World War II. There is a fear among some groups, including Singpho elites, that the eventual opening up of the road as part of the Look East policy will result in more non-Scheduled peoples coming to live in the area, which will further undermine their abilities to influence their local panchayat as a first step to gaining influence within the Indian political system.

(18) Kapila, ‘The Measure of a Tribe’.

(19) There are about 10, 000 Singpho in northeast India. There are no reliable census figures for Kachin-identifying communities in Burma. However, to put the comparative demographics in context, the Government of Myanmar states that there are approximately 1.2 million people in Kachin State, of which an indeterminate number would identify as ethnically Kachin. Myitkyina, the state capital, has a population of approximately 150, 000 and it is in urban areas such as this that non-Kachin-identifying people mainly reside. Even a very cautious estimate of numbers clearly shows the demographic balance between Singpho and ‘Kachin’ to be heavily weighted towards the latter. The official Chinese census of the Jingpo in China in 2000 states that there are about 130, 000 Jingpo people resident in Yunnan.

(20) This was the kind of rhetoric initially used after World War II by Reginald Dorman-Smith, the Governor of Burma, when the British were attempting to delay the movement towards independence of the Frontier Areas as a part of the Union of Burma. It has subsequently been used by some nationalist politicians in Burma to justify the exclusion of ethnic minority elites from greater participation in political discussions at the centre.

(21) There are numerous local magazines and other publications that proclaim this view, explicitly or implicitly. Because Jinghpaw language spheres have been predominantly controlled by church groups, as mentioned previously, it is possible to publish articles of this type that would otherwise have fallen prey to the careful observations of the censor board. Religious texts did not have to be subjected to the same levels of censorship scrutiny as others in recent years.

(22) There are a number of reports written by international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and pressure groups and local activists, sometimes in collaboration with international and local NGOs, that have sought to bring attention to the environmental concerns of this seemingly uncontrolled and highly damaging level of resource extraction. These include Kachin Development Neworking Group, ‘Damming the Irrawaddy’ (October 2007) and Pan Kachin Development Society and Images Asia, ‘At What Price? Gold Mining in Kachin State, Burma’, and ‘A Choice for China: Ending the Destruction of Burma’s Northern Frontier Forests’ (October 2005), which along with many others are accessible via the principal Kachin activist websites such as the Kachin National Organisation (http://kachinland.org/) and the Kachin News Group (www.kachinnews.com). Greater access to the region is also enabling more high quality academic research relating to issues of resource extraction and development, for example T. Kramer and K. Woods, ‘Financing Dispossession: China’s Opium Substitution Programme in Northern Burma’ (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute Drugs and Democracy Programme, 2012); K. Woods, ‘Ceasefire Capitalism: Military–Private Partnerships, Resource Concessions and Military State Building in the Burma–China Borderlands’, Journal of Peasant Studies 38, no. 4 (2011); K. Woods, ‘Community Forestry in Cease-Fire Zones in Kachin State, Northern Burma: Formalizing Collective Property in Contested Ethnic Areas’ (paper presented at the CAPRi Workshop on Collective Action, Property Rights and Conflict in Natural Resources Management, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2010); K. Woods, ‘Conflict Timber along the China–Burma Border: Connecting the Global Timber Consumer with Violent Extraction Sites’, in Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia, ed. Eric Tagliacozzo and Wen-Chin Chang (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

(23) In 2008 there was even deemed to be insufficient wood of length and quality available in Laiza to make desks and other furniture for a recently opened community library, while on a daily basis large trucks loaded with timber passed unhindered over the border with Yunnan. In a recent article in New Mandala, Kevin Woods has shown how this discourse has now moved on to become a concern over loss of land as an accompaniment to loss of resources; see ‘Rubber Planting and Military-state Making: Military–Private Partnerships in Northern Burma’, 4 February 2011 at http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/. See also Global Witness, A Disharmonious Trade: China and the Continued Destruction of Burma’s Northern Frontier Forests (2009), available from http://www.globalwitness.org/campaigns/environment/forests/illegal-logging/burma [cited 12 May 2012] and see its series of reports on logging in particular.

(24) Hpungdau Ngamai, personal interview, Burma–China border, 10 April 2008.

(25) The KIA’s present Central Command looms above the town, with the offices of the various departments separated into different buildings that spread out across Alen Bum, the mountain above, somewhat in the manner of a mountain-based village.

(26) Woods, ‘Community Forestry in Cease-Fire Zones in Kachin State, Northern Burma’;Woods, ‘Ceasefire Capitalism’. At the time of writing it is also a site targeted by the Burma Army in their latest efforts to crush KIA military resistance.

(27) I am very grateful to Seng Maw Lahpai for sharing her research on this village with me: Seng Maw Lahpai, ‘Politics of Identity and Articulations of Belonging: A Transnational Kachin Community in Northern Thailand’, MA Thesis, Chiang Mai University, July 2007. I am also extremely grateful to Lajawng Dau Hkawng for his enlightening discussions with me on the politics of representation for Hill Tribes in Thailand. The term ‘Kachin’ is used in Thailand in relation to non-Jinghpaw groups as well, as in Burma and as in China with Jingpo. However, some non-Jinghpaw communities also use the civic space provided in Chiang Mai to create a distinctive local presence. This is particularly notable with Nung and Rawang communities who have established their own faith communities in the town.

(28) There is a growing literature produced by local and international scholars on this issue and the main regional centres for such studies are presently based at Chiang Mai University. I am most grateful to Dr Chayan Vaddhanaputti for providing me with space and connections to explore these issues during 2007–8. Important general issues relating to this subject are raised by: Charles Keyes, ‘“The Peoples of Asia”: Science and Politics in the Classification of Ethnic Groups in Thailand, China, and Vietnam’, Journal of Asian Studies 61, no. 4 (2002); P. Vandergeest, ‘Racialization and Citizenship in Thai Forest Politics’, Society and Natural Resources 16, no. 1 (2003); M. K. Connors, ‘Ministering Culture: Hegemony and the Politics of Culture and Identity in Thailand’, Critical Asian Studies 37, no. 4 (2005).

(29) My thanks to Lajawng Dau Hkawng and Naw Tawng for their discussions with me on these matters in Thailand in 2007–8.

(30) For other contexts of this same issue see: J. L. Aguettant, ‘Impact of Population Registration on Hilltribe Development in Thailand’, Asia-Pacific Population Journal 11, no. 4; K. McKinnon, ‘(Im)Mobilization and Hegemony: “Hill Tribe” Subjects and the “Thai” State’, Social and Cultural Geography 6, no. 1 (2005); M. Toyota, ‘Subjects of the Nation without Citizenship: The Case of “Hill Tribes” in Thailand’, in Multiculturalism in Asia, ed. W. Kymlicka and B. He (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); M. Toyota, ‘Ambivalent Categories: “Hill Tribes” and “Illegal Migrants” in Thailand’, in Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territory’s Edge, ed. C. Grundy-Warr and P. K. Rajaram (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

(31) Lajawng Dau Hkawng, personal communications, Ban Mai Samakkhi, Thailand, 12 December 2007.

(32) This was demanded by dint of UNHCR mandate and the internal politics of the European Community. The Jesuit Refugee Service gave a somewhat rose-tinted view of these events (see http://www.jrs.net/news, 2 July 2010). These refugees were subsequently resettled elsewhere following continuing problems with their settlement, lack of support and language skills, but many have also since been forced to return to Romania. At the time of writing, the issue was starting to be taken up by Danish activists following the tragic suicide of one of the refugees as a result of the intolerable conditions in which they have to live.

(33) The Kachin National Organisation (KNO) has been particularly significant in mobilising pressure from diaspora groups of Kachin people around the world and it maintains a constant engagement with KIA officials by which it hopes to influence decision making, as well as providing a route for disseminating information. However, it has also been in conflict with senior KIA officials and the relationship is subject to constant negotiation.

(34) There is an increasing literature on transnational activism of which the following are particularly helpful: H. Cunningham, ‘The Ethnography of Transnational Social Activism: Understanding the Global as Local Practice’, American Ethnologist 26, no. 3 (1999); S. Dudley, External Aspects of Self-Determination Movements in Burma, Queen Elizabeth House Working Paper Series, No. 94 (Oxford: Queen Elizabeth House, 2003).

(35) For comparative contexts from a rapidly expanding literature see: W. van Schendel, The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation in South Asia (London: Anthem, 2005); Noboru Ishikawa, Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009); H. Donnan and Thomas M. Wilson, Border Identities: Nation and State at International Frontiers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Thomas M. Wilson and Hastings Donnan, Border Approaches: Anthropological Perspectives on Frontiers (Lanham and London: University Press of America and Anthropological Association of Ireland, 1994); Janet C. Sturgeon, Border Landscapes: The Politics of Akha Land Use in China and Thailand (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005); G. Das, N. B. Singh and C. J. Thomas, eds., Indo-Myanmar Border Trade: Status, Problems, and Potentials (New Delhi: Akansha, 2005); P. Ganster and D. E. Lorey, eds. Borders and Border Politics in a Globalizing World (Lanham and Oxford: S. R. Books, 2005).

(36) The conflicts in the southern Philippines are deemed ‘the longest’, with some referencing them as ‘the second longest in history’. However, in the post-World War II era, the conflicts in Burma have been marked as some of the longest continual conflicts, with that of the Karen peoples taking the historical marker of its start as 31 January 1949. See Ashley South, ‘Burma’s Longest War: Anatomy of the Karen Conflict’ (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute/Burma Centre Netherlands, 2011). Viewpoints as to why long conflicts of this kind persist include: Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, ‘Ethnic Conflict in the World Today’, American Ethnologist 16, no. 2 (1989); M. M. Steedly, ‘The State of Culture Theory in the Anthropology of Southeast Asia’, Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1999); D. Brown, ‘From Peripheral Communities to Ethnic Nations: Separatism in Southeast Asia’, Pacific Affairs 61, no. 1 (1988).

(37) The most recent attempt to integrate such models has been François Robinne, Prêtres et Chamanes: Métamorphoses des Kachin de Birmanie (Paris: Harmattan, 2007), which uses the notion of Federative and Operative spheres as a means of adjusting to local political and social environments.

(38) Edmund Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure (London: Athlone Press, 1970 [1954]).

(39) J. Friedman, System, Structure, and Contradiction: The Evolution of ‘Asiatic’ Social Formations, 2nd edn (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1998).

(40) See later work including: J. Friedman, Cultural Identity and Global Process (London: Sage, 1994); J. Friedman, ed., Consumption and Identity (London: Routledge, 2004); K. E. Friedman and J. Friedman, Globalization, the State and Violence (Walnut Creek, CA and Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2003).

(41) For some extended reviews of this in the context of ‘Zomia’ see: J Michaud, ‘Editorial—Zomia and Beyond’, Journal of Global History, no. 2 (2010); H. Jonsson, ‘Above and Beyond: Zomia and the Ethnographic Challenge of/for Regional History’, History and Anthropology 21, no. 2 (2010); Victor Lieberman, ‘A Zone of Refuge in Southeast Asia? Reconceptualizing Interior Spaces’, Journal of Global History 5, no. 2 (2010).

(42) James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

(43) This failure to make connections is evident in the fact that in 1970 when Leach wrote a new preface for his 1954 work, the Kachin Independence Army had been engaged in conflict with the Burmese government for nearly ten years. Leach expressed himself to be somewhat baffled by recent political developments. The world he had described had disappeared; Kachin society was somehow just ‘different’ now and therefore largely irrelevant to his theory. A decade later in 1983, with the civil war still raging and when Gam Awng’s parents were anticipating sending their son away to India, Leach had a heated debate with David Nugent over historical representations. D. Nugent, ‘Closed Systems and Contradiction: The Kachin in and out of History’, Man 17, no. 3 (1982); Edmund Leach, ‘Imaginary Kachins’, Man 18, no. 1 (1983). Again, the implications of the theory for contemporary evolutions of Kachin social systems were absent from the discussion, even though much of the argument centred on the historical prevalence or otherwise of opium cultivation, which by this time had become the major commodity driving conflict. By 1983, this region had evolved as one of the world’s most prolific sites of opium production, influencing the global flow of a commodity that impacted greatly on contemporary, western social lives. Bertil Lintner, Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency since 1948 (Chang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999). In 1998, Friedman wrote a revised introduction to his book, in which there is scarcely a mention of the fact that local ‘Kachin’ people had recently emerged from the other side of a by-now forty-year-long conflict over the demand for Dimokrasi in the modern, independent nation of Burma. Friedman, System, Structure, and Contradiction. I recall a discussion in Burma with a Kachin elder on the James H. Green collection of photographs from the 1920s, which also illustrate this book, in which he stated that he was concerned in case people might mistake these historical images from the 1920s for contemporary photographs. I tried to reassure him that, of course, this could never happen. In fact, he was correct and a number of people subsequently asked me whether in fact I had taken the photographs. See M. Sadan, ‘The Kachin Photographs in the J. H. Green Collection: A Contemporary Context’, in Burma Frontier Photographs: 1918–1935, ed. E. Dell (London: Merrell, 2000); M. Sadan, ‘Historical Photography in Kachin State: An Update on the James Green Collection of Photographs’, South Asia: The Journal of the South Asia Studies Association of Australia, special issue: Northeast and Beyond: Culture and Change (2007).

(44) Previous attempts to raise concerns about historical contingency in relation mainly to Edmund Leach’s work have tended to attract the scorn of some anthropologists. This was especially so in the case of David Nugent, who attempted to question Leach’s interpretation of historical data and found himself embroiled in a rather unpleasant correspondence as a result. Nugent’s analysis was in many ways awry, but he did nonetheless try to wave the flag of historical context from his trench.

(45) Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed, p. xii.

(46) Magnus Fiskesjö, ‘Mining, History, and the Anti-State Wa: The Politics of Autonomy between Burma and China’, Journal of Global History 5, no. 2 (2010).

(47) Talal Asad, ‘Anthropology and the Analysis of Ideology’, Man 14 (1979).

(48) Ibid., p. 621.

(49) Ibid., p. 615.

(50) J. Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983). One might contrast gumlao with the term ‘revolution’ in an English vernacular, which could mean many things in different places and at different times, have different outcomes and map on to different ideological positions, as we shall see. See also M. Sadan, ‘Translating Gumlao: History, the “Kachin” and Edmund Leach’, in Social Dynamics in the Highlands of Southeast Asia: Reconsidering Political Systems of Highland Burma by E. R. Leach, ed. F. Robinne and M. Sadan. Handbook of Oriental Studies Section 3: Southeast Asia, 18 (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

(51) Of course, anthropology has moved beyond these limitations in so many other domains as well as in its relations with history. See for example Talal Asad, ed., Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2009), D. Kalb and Herman Tak, ed., Critical Junctures: Anthropology and History beyond the Cultural Turn (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2005) and the journal History and Anthropology (Routledge). The point here, however, is that the Kachin have become such an icon of anthropology’s own history that their representation has failed to incorporate the notion of ongoing change. This is not just a consequence of lack of access to the region but a more fundamental problem of how anthropology makes its object.

(52) M. Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. Sheridan Smith (London: Tavistock, 1972).

(53) H. N. C. Stevenson, the head of the Frontier Areas Administration in Burma, was a determined supporter of ‘Hill Tribe’political claims for autonomous status and made repeated calls for the intervention of applied anthropology to assist in providing settlement of problems exacerbated by war. He was influential in Edmund Leach’s time in Burma, for which see R. Anderson, ‘The Biographical Origins of Political Systems of Highland Burma’, in Social Dynamics in the Highlands of Southeast Asia. Stevenson also wrote a number of articles and pamphlets on ‘Hill Tribes’ as well as a serious work of ethnographic description, H. N. C. Stevenson, The Economics of the Central Chin Tribes (Bombay: Times of India Press, 1943), and a more popular work, H. N. C. Stevenson, The Hill Peoples of Burma (London: Longmans, Green, 1944). In India, Verrier Elwin was to go on to have even more impact than Stevenson in influencing the political arrangements of the North East Frontier, being made anthropological adviser to the Government of NEFA (North East Frontier Agency), later Arunachal Pradesh, post-independence, at which time he took up Indian citizenship. His publications are manifold, but a critical reassessment of his work as a whole can be found in T. B. Subba and S. Som, Between Ethnography and Fiction: Verrier Elwin and the Tribal Question in India (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2005).

(54) Such perceptions have become embedded also in discourse about ‘Tripartite Dialogue’ in the resolution of Burma’s political deadlock in recent years, where it seemed that the National League for Democracy was also reluctant to permit minority representatives a central role in discussions, especially following their own secret negotiations with the regime in 2000. The term was first used in the 1994 United Nations General Assembly as a way of recognising that participation of ethnic elites in the discussions about the political future of the country was vital.

(55) Friedman, System, Structure, and Contradiction, pp. 25–6.

(56) D. W. Minar, ‘Ideology and Political Behaviour’, Midwest Journal of Political Science 5, no. 4 (1961).

(57) Ibid.

(58) See for example D. McClellan, Ideology (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1995). He states that: ‘Traditional beliefs, just because they are traditional, tend to be static and to rely on a restricted, hierarchically structured, coherent entities [sic]: myths did not compete’ (p. 2). He then goes on to explain that secularisation of worldviews and the capacity to influence and change them is a critical dimension in distinguishing between the bounds of traditional thought and ideology.

(59) Neither is it a view that has total dominance within the broader history of ideological theory engendered by people like Karl Mannheim and Antonio Gramsci. A. Gramsci, Selections from Prison Notebooks, trans. Q. Hoare and G. Newell-Smith (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971); K. Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (London: Kegan Paul, 1936).

(60) M. Freeden, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 2–3.

(61) Ibid., pp. 12–13.

(62) See for example the multi-volume Cambridge History of Southeast Asia in which there is almost no mention of the impact that peripheries have on state formation, other than occasional references to trade goods and commodity flows through ‘hinterlands’. N. Tarling, ed., Cambridge History of Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

(63) See for example M. Baud and W. van Schendel, ‘Toward a Comparative History of Borderlands’, Journal of World History 8, no. 2 (1997) for a delineation of how borders can be approached as process geographies by historians; L. J. Sears, ed., Autonomous Histories, Particular Truths: Essays in Honor of John R. W. Smail (Madison: University of Wisconsin, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1993); Sunait Chutintaranond and Chris Baker, eds., Recalling Local Pasts: Autonomous History in Southeast Asia (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2002).

(64) Edmund Leach, ‘The Frontiers of “Burma”’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 3, no. 1 (1960).

(65) Ibid.

(66) Scott’s work has developed this theme over many years. James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998); James C. Scott and B. J. T. Kerkvliet, eds., Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance in South-East Asia (London: Frank Cass, 1986); James C. Scot, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990).

(67) Fiskesjö, ‘Mining, History, and the Anti-State Wa’.

(68) O. W. Wolters, History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives (Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1999); Sunait Chutintaranond, ‘Mandala, Segmentary State, and Politics of Centralization in Medieval Ayudhya’, Journal of the Siam Society 78, no. 1 (1990); Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800– 1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); M. Stuart-Fox, The Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang: Rise and Decline (Bangkok: White Lotus, 1998); Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, World Conqueror and World Renouncer: A Study of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand against a Historical Background (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1976); Tambiah, Culture, Thought and Social Action: An Anthropological Perspective (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1985);Tambiah, The Buddhist Conception of Universal King and its Manifestations in South and Southeast Asia (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya, 1987).

(69) R. Dellios, Mandala: From Sacred Origins to Sovereign Affairs in Traditional Southeast Asia. Centre for East–West Cultural and Economic Studies Papers, No. 10. Robina, Queensland: Bond University School of Humanities and Social Sciences, (2003).

(70) Wolters, History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives.

(71) Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, ‘The Galactic Polity: The Structure of Traditional Kingdoms in Southeast Asia’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 293, ‘Anthropology and Climate of Opinion’ (1977); Lieberman, Strange Parallels.

(72) Two interesting articles which attempt to engage the notion of the mandala from the perspective of the periphery are D. E. Tooker, ‘Putting the Mandala in its Place: A Practice-based Approach to the Spatialization of Power on the Southeast Asian “Periphery”—The Case of the Akha’, Journal of Asian Studies 55, no. 2 (1996) and P. Grave, ‘Beyond the Mandala: Buddhist Landscapes and Upland–Lowland Interaction in North-West Thailand ad 1200–1650’, World Archaeology 27, no. 2 (1995).

(73) Leach, ‘The Frontiers of “Burma”’.

(74) My thanks to Professor Robert Anderson for his comments.

(75) This refers to the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who in 1975 coined the term ‘fractal’and became internationally renowned through his work The Fractal Geometry of Nature in 1982.

(76) Chaos theory studies behaviour within dynamic systems such as, for example, why small differences in conditions may have dramatically different effects. A number of elements of this have entered popular culture, especially the beautiful images that can be produced mathematically as well as the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings can produce dramatic effects in far distant places (the Butterfly Effect as coined by Edward Lorenz).

(77) P. A. Roth and T. A. Ryckman, ‘Chaos, Clio and Scientific Illusions of Understanding’, History and Theory 34, no. 1 (1995) outlines the limitations of this kind of intellectual borrowing; D. Zeitlyn and B. Connell, ‘Ethnogenesis and Fractal History on the African Frontier: Mambila-Njerep-Mandulu’, Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003), however, demonstrate some of the uses to which it can be put as an intellectual tool for organising multi-layered constructions of space and time. See also S. H. Kellert, Borrowed Knowledge: Chaos Theory and the Challenge of Learning across Disciplines (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008).

(78) Michaud, ‘Editorial—Zomia and Beyond’.

(79) Van Schendel, ‘Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance’; Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed. Two of the best discussions are Michaud, ‘Editorial—Zomia and Beyond’and Jonsson, ‘Above and Beyond’. Both articles present a different aspect of these dynamics, although Jonsson is far the more penetrating about the problems that might beset historians of these areas. Lieberman presents a valuable historical perspective on some of the material that Scott brings to the table: Lieberman, ‘A Zone of Refuge in Southeast Asia?’

(80) Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed, p. xiv.

(81) Prof. Willem van Schendel, personal communication, Stockholm, Sweden, 16 May 2011.

(82) Van Schendel, ‘Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance’.

(83) M. Sadan, ‘Review of The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia’, in Reviews in History (2010), www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/903 (accessed 11 October 2012).

(84) One example was the work of the Centre for the Study of Humanities at Cophenhagen University and the Fernand Braudel Centre.

(85) Kalb and Tak, eds., Critical Junctures considers a variety of approaches that have attempted to take the relationship between history and anthropology to a new level.

(86) Some of the most consistent and persistent work of this type has been done within the rubric of world systems theory of the kind that Jonathan Friedman so well represents, although not all share his Marxist orientation. World system anthropologists have notably tried to extend their theoretical perspective to diachronic analysis. As we have noted already with Friedman, the conclusions may sometimes be discomforting in their theoretical abstractions, but they may have much to teach in terms of how comparative analysis of social structure may help us to prise open the ideological perspectives that are mapped by these structures. What historians may contribute is a rigorous insistence that those abstractions do not become so elevated that they become historically meaningless. K. E. Friedman and J. Friedman, Modernities, Class, and the Contradictions of Globalization: The Anthropology of Global Systems (Walnut Creek, CA and Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2011); R. A. Denemark, J. Friedman, B. K. Gills and G. Modelski, eds., World System History: The Social Science of Long-Term Change (London: Routledge, 2000).

(87) See M. Sadan, ‘History and Ethnicity in Burma: Cultural Contexts of the Ethnic Category “Kachin” in the Colonial and Post-Colonial State, 1824–2004’ (PhD thesis, SOAS, University of London, 2007) for fuller discussion of this background.

(88) This was an informal grouping of people, largely but not solely based within the Kachin Baptist Convention, who obtained support for a period of years from the jade businessman Yup Zau Hkawng. Key figures were Pungga Ja Li, Revd Gum Se and Revd N’Ngai Gam who were all concerned that many of these rituals would never be performed again. A discussion of this line of thinking forms part of Chapter 8 of this book.

(89) The James Green Trust and the Open Society Institute Burma Project subsequently supported the continuation of the work, but the original goals were formulated long before such an outcome could even have been considered given the lack of access by these local researchers to international funders at this time.

(90) Sadan, ‘The Kachin Photographs in the J. H. Green Collection’; Sadan, ‘Historical Photography in Kachin State’.

(91) Charles Patterson Giersc, Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

(92) Other terms may be used in some local areas or reflecting sub-regional dialect differences.

(93) Lawang Li, Maran Amyu Ni a Ahtik Labau Laika (Myitkyina: publisher unknown, 1974?); Labau Ka Lajang Komiti Hpung Yawpang Maran, Yawpang Maran Ni a Lahtik Labau (Sh) Kaji Kawa Ni a Matsun Ningdat Ga Laika Buk (No. 1) (Myitkyina: publisher unknown, date unknown); L. Zau Mun, Gauri Krung Hte Jinghpaw Gauri Ni (Myitkyina: publisher unknown, 1995) represent a small selection of the locally produced, usually self-published works that proliferate as individuals attempt to establish a space for distinctive lineage segment histories.

(94) Sadan, ‘The Kachin Photographs in the J. H. Green Collection’ and M. Sadan, ‘Decolonizing Kachin: Ethnic Diversity and the Making of an Ethnic Category’, in Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma, ed. M. Gravers (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2007) discuss the historical and contemporary evolutions of these terms.

(95) V. T. King, ‘Imaginary Kachins’, Man 18, no. 2 (1983).

(96) This is evidenced in early ethnographic accounts from Assam in the 1820s and 1840s in which there is clear concordance with social models, ritual practice and historical representation of the meanings of the social group that extend across the whole region. Further details about this material will be discussed more fully in the book as it develops.

(97) M. Sadan, ‘Cords and Connections: Ritual and Spatial Integration in the Jinghpaw Cultural Zone’, in Origins and Migrations in the Extended Eastern Himalayas, ed. T. Huber and S. Blackburn (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Sadan, ‘Historical Photography in Kachin State’.

(98) This is a pseudonym.